Summary

In January 2013, we reported on the Queensland Government’s decision to lift the effective ban on uranium mining and we considered what was next for the industry in Queensland. Following the release of the Uranium Implementation Committee’s report, we take this opportunity to review some of our predictions and outline the Committee’s key findings and recommendations1.

Premier Campbell Newman convened the Uranium Implementation Committee in October 2012 and tasked the Committee with developing a framework for the re-commencement of uranium mining in Queensland. Since then, the Committee has reviewed submissions from a diverse range of stakeholders, liaised with Government departments and visited operating mines in other Australian states. The Committee’s report, released on 18 March 2013, is broadly supportive of the uranium industry and includes a series of recommendations

Regulatory framework

As expected, and in good news for industry, the Committee confirmed that existing legislation provides an appropriate framework for the development of uranium mining in Queensland. The Committee concluded that, with certain adaptations, Queensland’s existing system for regulating mining and radiation safety is appropriate to support the development of uranium mining.

Key recommendations include:

  • The Queensland Government should facilitate a coordinated approvals process by referring all uranium mining proposals for assessment by the Coordinator General under the State Development and Public Works Organisation Act 1971 (Qld).
  • Approval under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) should be undertaken in accordance with the existing bilateral agreement between the Queensland and Australian Governments.
  • The Queensland Government should apply a base 5% royalty regime – but also offer a ‘new mine’ concessional royalty for the first 5 years of a mine’s life and investigate the use of increasing royalty rates as uranium prices increase.
  • Existing ports which are already authorised to handle uranium (Darwin and Adelaide) should be used for uranium export (although a future request to use Queensland ports was not ruled out). The Committee considers that road, not rail, will be the more likely form of transport from mine to port. 
  • The current ‘Royalties for Regions’ program should be expanded to uranium mining areas and the Government should develop initiatives to assist indigenous Queenslanders to access benefits from the industry.

Delay and Government resources

In January we reported that the Government’s announcement was likely to take time to implement and would require ‘up-skilling’ in various Government departments. Although the Committee has largely left ‘timing’ up to the Government, a number of its recommendations highlight the need for further work in this area to be undertaken.

The report makes it clear that mine safety, rehabilitation and health guidance documentation will need to be expanded and ‘model’ environmental conditions specific to uranium are yet to be developed. The Committee also found that the Queensland Government’s skills and expertise in assessing (and monitoring) uranium projects may need to be supplemented. It advised the Government to utilise both third party auditors and an independent ‘specialist adviser’ such as the Australian Government’s Supervising Scientist Division to oversee environmental performance of uranium mines. The committee also recommended the establishment of:

  • a whole-of-government Uranium Mining Oversight Committee to manage implementation, operation and rehabilitation;
  • a Uranium Mining Stakeholder Committee; and
  • an inter-state governmental committee to oversee and harmonise regulation of transport and logistics for uranium.

Exploration and development

Current estimates (included in the report) place the value of Queensland uranium deposits at $10 billion. Whether these deposits are developed in the short to medium term depends on a number of factors, including prevailing uranium prices and the cost of finance. However, as noted by Queensland Resources Council CEO Michael Roche ‘establishing the ground rules for uranium mining in Queensland is an important step towards the realising the industry’s potential’.